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How My Traumatic Brain Injury Helped Me Learn What It Means to Be a Mom

wedding dress

I hit the mom lottery—the jackpot really, like when they show up at your house with balloons and confetti and a huge ass check. I hit the lottery when I married my husband and the woman who had to be my mother-in-law chose to be more than that. Unfortunately, she got more than she ever bargained for.

Growing up, there was a person in my house who was a mother, but that relationship was neither typical or healthy. Although several people at different stages in my life had explained to me that this was not the way it was supposed to be, I didn’t fully understand until I actually experienced ‘normal.’

When my now-husband and I got engaged, she said to me, “Call me mom.” I easily obliged. She was amazing and cool, the quintessential Jewish mother, and we always had a great time together in the few short months her son and I had dated before we got married.  I had the privilege of planning an amazing wedding with her–mine.  We did it fast and we did it well, galavanting around town like professionals as we checked things off our list.  Sadly, after those few, fun months and getting to planning my wedding together, the relationship as I knew it abruptly ended.

READ: For My Mother, On Her Yahrzeit

Six weeks after my wedding, our family was in a terrible car accident and I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Before, it had been the beginnings of a close mother-daughter relationship between two adults, similar, but of course not the same, as she had with my sister-in-law who she had raised from birth. Now, it was as if she was starting all over again.

Here she was, the grandmother of a 2-year-old and she now has one of her children (who biologically is not even her own) to completely care for. She protected me against the big, cruel, non-brain damaged world. I woke up crying for her in the middle of the night. She schlepped me to appointments, held me while I vomited, dressed me, made me eat, listened to doctors. And like every mother does, she clapped and cheered the first time I walked on my own! She virtually halted her life to take care of me.

Over the next five years, there were many ups and downs, but she has remained my biggest advocate and cheerleader. While I was healthy for a while, and had a baby (everyone’s shining star during the bad times), I was also very sick a lot of those five years. I was a horrible person sometimes, in so much pain I couldn’t function; I definitely couldn’t make good decisions. I wouldn’t listen to anyone, and my outlook on everything was worse than negative. In general, the more pain I am in, the more awful I am. These are times I don’t remember, but I know they were ugly. Yet she stayed. She took care of me, and she took care of my daughter. She was more of a mother to her granddaughter for a period of time than I was. It’s still not something I like to think about.

READ: Mother-in-Law to the Rescue

After a life-altering surgery that my whole family fought for, I am a completely different person now. I had another baby, and she was there with me through the entire pregnancy and birth, just like she was the first time.

Now, I still have ups and downs, but the ups last longer while the downs aren’t nearly as severe. Sometimes she gets to be the typical Jewish mother and Bubbe she so deserves to be. Still, she worries. I can see it in her face, in the decisions that she makes. I can see it in the looks she gives to my dad, the way she sometimes snaps at my husband. Noise, heat, dizziness, pain, fainting, medication, and confusion are just some of the things she worries about with me…and I would do anything to take that worry away from her, to make it all easier.

One thing I have learned as a mother: Your job is constant and all-consuming, no matter how old you or your children are. My mom still worries about all of us. Her head is filled with worries and desires for her family…her children, her grandchildren, and the man who makes her nuts—the one who the kids call G-Pa.

READ: Facing Anxiety as a Mother, Wife & Woman

Being a mother is a vastly different journey for every woman lucky enough to walk its path, and the experience is different with each child. In an ideal world, you give birth surrounded by unicorns and roses, raise a perfect lady or gentlemen, and send them off to Harvard…their full scholarship in tow. They come out President of the United States, and give you 10 perfect Jewish grandchildren. In the real world, its much messier and hardly perfect.

How you care for and embrace your children is precisely what makes you a mother, no matter how they became your own. I hope to be half the mother and grandmother that my mom is. I might be able to pull it off–she has taught me everything I know!

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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